A Joint Declaration on Life

Having coordinated these past few months, a group of Christians from the Evangelical and Catholic tradition have developed the following Joint Declaration on Life.

Our goal is to build a bridge between those who seek to defend human life and those who seek to protect creation. The document is being sent to many for signing, and soon a website will be developed for wider distribution. But for now, read through the text and, if you're interested in signing it, email your name and affiliation to [email protected], or just include that information in the comment section below.

“I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings . . ." (Genesis 9:15)

We, the undersigned, Christians of both the Evangelical and Roman Catholic traditions, share this mission: building unity among those who defend the dignity of the human person and those who promote the health of the natural environment.

We establish our mission on biblical principles, we build on the wisdom and insights of ancient and contemporary Christian leaders, we see the increasing impact of ecological degradation on human life, and we invite dialogue with all women and men of good will who desire to protect the integrity of life and to steward the vital resources which sustain all life.

We are convinced of, and so we declare to others, the great links between human life and God’s creation. We also understand that these links do not imply equivalencies between particular moral concerns and issues. We therefore do not demand equalities among the myriad matters of life where none exist. Rather, we seek to call attention to, and benefit from, naturally occurring relationships between human life—from conception until natural death—and the ecological systems that sustain and foster it.

1. Biblical Principles: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live….” (Deuteronomy 30:19). The Christian proclamation is rooted in the choice between life and death. Indeed, throughout Christian Scripture, the incarnational message of salvation inextricably links the redemption of humanity and the renewal of God’s creation, most particularly in:

i. the Genesis creation accounts;

ii. the deliverance from Egypt, through the giving of the law;

iii. the Psalms praising the Creator and His Creation;

iv. the utterances of the Prophets of Israel and their fulfillment in the Gospel proclamation of the Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ;

v. the Pauline tradition of “all creation” groaning in anticipation of the New Heavens and the New Earth, which is promised to us in the Prophets, the New Testament, and especially in the Book of Revelation.

2. Christian Thought: In the early fifth century, St. Augustine reflected on the revelation that the entire created order is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He observes:

such is the force and power of completeness and unity, that many things, all good in themselves, are only found satisfying when they come together and fit into one universal whole. The universal, the universe, of course takes its name from unity.

In the thirteenth century, St. Bonaventure uses St. Paul to teach that all creatures share in signifying “the invisible attributes of God, partly because God is the origin, exemplar, and the end of every creature.” In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

[o]urduties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.

Noted evangelist Billy Graham commended in 1983:

The growing possibility of destroying ourselves and the world with our own neglect and excess is tragic and very real. I find myself becoming more and more an advocate of the true ecologist where their recommendations are realistic. Many of these people have done us an essential service in helping us preserve and protect our green zones and our cities, our waters and our air…

And in 1984, theologian Francis Schaeffer stated that humanity’s actions:

have a direct impact on the natural realm. That relationship is also moral. Why? Because its involves a moral choice that impacts the environment and people … A truly Biblical Christianity has a real answer to the environmental crisis. It offers a balanced and healthy attitude to nature, arising from the truth of its creation by God; and it offers hope of substantial healing in nature of some of the results of the Fall, arising from the truth of the redemption in Christ.

3. Impacts on Life and God’s Creation: Modern science is increasingly documenting the damage done by environmental toxins to human life from the moment of conception—and even before conception—throughout all stages of development and growth. The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine (Volume 78, Issue 1, January/February 2011) finds that “research initiatives have delineated the exquisite vulnerability of fetuses, infants, and children to toxic hazards in the environment.” The Mount Sinai Hospital Children’s Environmental Health Center states that “[s]cientific evidence is strong and continuing to build that hazardous exposures in the modern environment are important causes” of diseases such as:

i. Asthma;

ii. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder;

iii. Autism;

iv. Dyslexia;

v. Childhood leukemia;

vi. Brain cancer;

vii. Childhood obesity; and

viii. Type 2 diabetes

Other health concerns related to environmental toxins are the early onset of puberty and Parkinson’s Disease found in younger ages. Furthermore, while mercury is an often-cited toxin that damages human growth, other “[t]oxic chemicals in the environment—lead, pesticides,toxic air pollutants, phthalates, and bisphenol A—are important causes of disease in children, and they are found in our homes, at our schools, in the air we breathe, and in the products we use every day.” Lastly, recent studies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are showing that the rates of childhood autism have increased and that the incidents of childhood cancers continue to rise. In demonstrating the violence done to human life—born and unborn—by poisons released into our air, water, and food supply, such studies provide empirical evidence of the link between human life and ecological health.

4. An understanding of differences: As Christians, we understand that humanity lives in a fallen state of sin. This results in division where God intends unity of will and purpose. Such division, existing everywhere, tragically is found among those who seek to live and preach the Gospel’s message of life. Thus, some concentrate on the great good of protecting human life from the moment of conception to a natural death. Others focus on ecologies, biodiversity, and non-human species. Over time, mistrust and discord have risen among particular groups, especially as political ideologies have claimed one cause or another in their individual quests to define and defend what is good. Such divisions must be overcome, especially among Christians, who proclaim that the human person is made in the image of the One, Triune God.

5. An invitation to dialogue: We then invite all men and women of good will to dialogue. We propose that there are common missions and common ground between those who labor to maintain healthy ecosystems and those who battle the cultural acceptance of abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, infanticide, and euthanasia. We implore those who defend human dignity and those who defend the created order to see the unity and interconnectedness of all life. We understand that abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and euthanasia, intrinsically involve the willful termination of a human life, whereas the loss of life caused by environmental toxins is often unintended. Nevertheless, the damage done to the human person by toxins is real, debilitating, often deadly, and it is always the result of human choices. Thus, we see the issues of human dignity and ecological integrity as linked by our choices for either a blessing or a curse—for life or for death.

6. Our joint declaration: So that together we may all choose well—and encourage others to do so—we urge understanding and the building of bonds between those who, in their own way and through their own calling by God, seek to champion and defend the great, glorious, and mysterious gift of life—human life, born and unborn, and life throughout all creation, here and now, and for the ages and generations to come, until the end of time.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.